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Democrats and the Enthusiasm Gap

Democrats are in something of a Catch-22. There is a consensus (at least among the chattering class and highly engaged Democratic voters) that the party needs to pick a nominee who is the most electable, even if this person is not the most exciting or ground-breaking pick (i.e., a white, moderate, male). But, the "least risky" candidate risks depressing Democratic base voters (especially younger voters and voters of color), the very voters Democrats need to turn out if they are going to beat President Trump.

New polling by Pew Research suggests that former Vice President Joe Biden — the candidate many see as the most electable — also fits the description of the type of nominee that many voters in the Democratic base say they are least enthusiastic about supporting in November of 2020. Pew asked Democratic voters to choose their level of enthusiasm for a Democratic nominee based on that candidate’s gender, race, and sexual orientation. A nominee who was female, Black, or Latino generated the most enthusiasm and the lowest percent of apathy. A nominee who was described as gay, lesbian or bi-sexual drew slightly more eagerness than wariness — 17 percent more enthusiastic to 15 percent less enthusiastic.



The characteristics that drew the lowest percent of enthusiasm and the highest percent of apathy? You guessed it, a white man.

Just 4 percent of Democrats said they’d be more enthusiastic if their nominee for president were a white man, while 17 percent said they’d be less enthusiastic.

That level of wariness for a white male Democratic nominee is most pronounced among younger women (ages 18-49); 26 percent of these women say they’d be less enthusiastic about a white man as the Democratic nominee. That is a bit higher than that of 18-49-year-olds overall, 22 percent of whom said they’d be less enthusiastic about a white male Democratic standard bearer.

And, these younger women are also the most enthusiastic about the prospect of a potential nominee than any other group. Forty-five percent of 18-49-year-old women said they’d be enthusiastic about a female nominee. Latino voters were almost equally enthusiastic about the prospect of a Latino nominee for president (44 percent), but they were not as down on a white male as the younger women were (18 percent).

Even white voters aren’t enthusiastic about the prospect of a white, male nominee. Just four percent said they’d be enthusiastic about that prospect.



To be sure, a poll testing enthusiasm for certain types of candidates doesn’t translate directly to "voting for” or “staying home/voting against" in 2020. Younger voters, women, and voters of color may well indeed show up to vote for a white male nominee in November. But, Democrats could also feel more confident in the participation of these voters next year if the nominee is female or a person of color.

What this poll also tells me is that the many anecdotal stories we are getting from Democratic voters who say they’d show up to vote for anyone or anything just to beat Trump — may be a self-selecting group. Or, at the very least, a less than a representative group. Younger voters, female voters,and voters of color may not be as agnostic about the gender and race of the Democratic nominee as we are currently assuming.

Image: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergal